Fire, both as a natural event and as used by Aboriginal people, has been a part of the Australian environment for thousands of years. It has shaped our plants and animals into the ecosystems we have today. Its effects in many areas of Victoria are important for the health of our plants and animals.
Victoria’s geographical location, its vegetation and climate of mild winters followed by warm summers, combine to produce one of the most severe fire environments in the world.
Parks Victoria works closely with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) to manage fire on Victoria’s public land.
Is fire good or bad for the parks?
Most major parks in Victoria require periodic fire to ensure the survival of certain plants and animals.
A number of native plants and animals have developed specific ways of surviving fire. In fact many plants, such as banksias and Grass Trees, rely on fire to regenerate seeds and survive.
If you look closely at some of the plants in Victoria’s bush you might notice special adaptations for fire. For example, eucalyptus species have flammable oils and loose bark to encourage fire. Following fire they can recover quickly by sprouting special epicormic shoots from beneath their bark.
It is important to manage fire so it occurs at the right time and intensity for particular species and their communities. Too frequent or intense fires can work against the health of the environment.
Fire and animals
Fire helps create habitats - burnt out logs and areas of open forest provide important habitat for animals. By thinning dominate canopy species, fire also helps ensure a diversity of species which in turn provides food for a wider variety of animals. For example, at the moment DEPI and Parks Victoria are using fire to create habitat for threatened species including the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, Smoky Mouse and Ground Parrot.
Like rabbits and possums that eat the seedlings in our gardens, most native animals prefer fresh green seedlings. Therefore shortly after fire as plants start to reshoot, higher populations of animals can be sustained.
Aboriginal fire management
Aboriginal people used fire to encourage fresh growth and to help them hunt.
Using fire, animals were flushed out of thick bush into the open where they were easier to hunt. The fresh growth following fire also meant an increase in the population of grazing animals like kangaroos, and in turn more for Aboriginal people to hunt.
The term ‘prescribed burning’ refers to the use of fire to achieve planned land and resource management objectives. Depending on the environment type, some parks need more frequent fire than others.
There are two main reasons that Parks Victoria and the DEPI conduct prescribed burns:
- Fuel management – to reduce the risk and intensity of bushfires in areas surrounding towns and important assets.
- Flora and fauna management – to maintain species diversity and encourage fire dependant species like banksias and Grass Trees to regenerate.
Prescribed burns are usually conducted in autumn or spring when the weather is milder. Keep an eye out when you’re travelling at this time of year for the large plumes of smoke coming from the burns.
To learn more visit DEPI's website.
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